Assassination and Anarchy
At a time of intense feeling, like
that provoked by the assassination of President McKinley, few people
can think rightly, many cannot think at all. People are so occupied
with their emotions, with sorrow at the loss of the nation’s head,
and indignation at the base and dastardly deed, that serious, rational
thinking seems out of the question. Men passionately put forward
as the cause of the deed that which satisfies best their outraged
feelings, and rashly fling off supposed remedies for the evil, which
in their cool moments they would be ashamed to suggest.
This was never more true than when
President McKinley was shot down at Buffalo last month by Czolgosz.
The nation was stricken to the earth with sorrow,—a sorrow deeper
and wider than was ever experienced before, with one exception,
in its history. Into this sorrow practically everybody entered,
even those who had opposed most strenuously some of the President’s
political policies, or courses of action into which he had allowed
himself to be drawn. What had caused the deed? men began to ask
in pain, in perplexity or in anger. This question was natural, nay,
inevitable. It was, indeed, the duty of all of us to ask it, and
to try to find the proper answer.
The answers given have been various,
but most of them, we think, have failed almost wholly to go to the
root of the matter. Some have declared that the assassin was emboldened
to do the deed through the unrestrained criticism of public officials
indulged in by the press and people. This seems to us to have had
nothing appreciable to do with the matter. It would be just as rational
to say that the invention of printing, or general education, which
has enabled anarchists to read, was the cause.
More superficial still is the charge
that the criticisms of the Administration by men like Professor
Charles Eliot Norton, William Lloyd Garrison and others, were what
instigated the assassination. Nothing could surpass in irrationality
this accusation. Many of the men of this class are opposed to the
use of violence for any purpose whatever, and are constantly preaching
against it, as Tolstoy is in Russia. In that country, the great
Nonresistant has never been thought to be the cause of assassination
and riot. The government has allowed him to stay in the country,
in spite of his severe criticisms, because his presence and teachings
are held to be a restraint of violence. To charge such men as those
mentioned above with being the cause of the assassination is to
call white black, and to invert the whole moral order of things.
Most have assigned anarchy as the
cause, and have stopped there. This assumption is true in measure,
but it does not go far enough to show any real insight into the
situation. Why should anarchy—the violent kind we mean, for there
is another kind which holds and teaches the highest regard for human
life—have sought the life of our President at this time, while formerly
it has distinctly declared that it had no quarrel with a government
chosen directly by the people? There must be a deeper cause for
this sudden and unexpected outburst, beyond the mere effect of ordinary
It is just possible, of course, that
Czolgosz’s determination to kill the President may have been due
altogether to personal idiosyncrasies, to the sudden promptings
of a nature blinded and depraved by inheritance, and that anarchistic
beliefs were only the cloak under which this masqueraded. But this
is not likely. Such natures, even when they act unconsciously, are
usually stirred up by definite surroundings.
The cause which seems to us in the
main most rationally to account for this shocking crime, as it accounts
for similar deeds which have occurred in other countries, is the
prevailing spirit of brutalism and violence on the part of the nations.
When this  spirit is awakened
and cherished by the governments on a comprehensive scale, as has
been the case in recent years, it is sure to manifest itself in
the most unexpected places and ways, especially on persons whose
natures are coarse, brutal and undisciplined. If the nations fill
their belts with revolvers, their hip pockets with Krupp guns, and
their pouches with dynamite; if they pitilessly crush out human
lives by the thousands, and trample down whole peoples, in order
to accomplish their purposes,—why should it be thought strange that
to individuals of the type of which we are speaking, affected as
they must be by the prevailing spirit, the taking of any life should
seem entirely justifiable for the accomplishment of a definite end?
Evidences of the degrading and dehumanizing
effects of the prevailing brutalism are found in many directions.
Lynching, one of the remnants of the Civil War, has spread from
the South into the North, where it has probably as yet only just
begun its ravages. One of the most painful manifestations of it
was the spirit of savagery and vengeance manifested in the press,
in the pulpit and among the people when the President was assassinated.
It is a spirit which breaks down all respect for law and order,
takes away regard for human life and human rights, introduces a
general spirit of intolerance, and proceeds to accomplish its ends
in the speediest and most brutal way. This is what the civilized
world is acutely suffering from at the present time.
The great period of assassination
of rulers has been the last twenty years. This has been the period
of the development and spread of anarchy, which has just recently
begun to pour itself in its worst forms from Europe into America.
But this has also been the period of the recrudescence of force,
of the introduction of the new slavery of material power, of the
development of great armaments, of the crushing and exasperating
of the masses of the people by the consequent burdens, and of the
aggressions of the “great anarchists” upon the weak and uncivilized
peoples. Anarchism is only one of the little eddies of the great
To prevent such deeds as that which
has shocked and broken down the nation and the whole civilized world,
we must go to the root of the matter. To give up our dearly bought
and highly prized freedom of speech would only be to increase the
tyranny of force and make matters worse, to deepen the soil on which
we should have a still ranker growth of anarchy and assassination.
To shut our presidents off from the public and surround them with
glittering steel would make them still more liable to be shot or
dynamited, as European experience amply shows. Severer laws against
anarchistic teachings and methods will do absolutely nothing for
us. In those countries where such laws exist in greatest rigor,
and anarchism is driven to whispers in the most secret corners,
as in Russia, the teachings get printed and circulated by millions
of sheets, and violent anarchists multiply right under the lynx-eyes
of government. To exclude known anarchists from the country would
in all probability result only in multiplying native ones fourfold.
Lynching, recommended by some statesmen and preachers
even, would be only to substitute one phase of the disease for another.
Violence never cures violence.
What we said when King Humbert of
Italy was assassinated we repeat in substance now. So long as the
causes of anarchy continue—deep seated, widespread, upheld and promoted
by governments, excused and lauded in the press and the pulpit,
tolerated and trifled with by the people—anarchists will continue
to appear. For every one hung, or electrocuted, or beheaded, or
lynched, two will arise.
The governments must cease to make
brute force their prime law. They must begin to do away with their
great armaments. They must take the ruinous burdens from the people.
They must spend the vast sums of money now wasted on preparations
for war in improving the social and economic conditions of the struggling
masses. They must cease to worship and bow down to material wealth
and power. They must abandon utterly and forever the policy of overrunning,
slaughtering and reducing to political subjection weak and ill-civilized
races. In other words, they must cease to be anarchists themselves.
They must submit themselves to the laws of love and brotherhood,
of universal justice and right. They must conscript themselves into
the service of their peoples, rather than conscript these into food
for cannon and pestilence. Our own country cannot take another step
in the development of militarism without increased danger of the
loss of its presidents and other high officials at the hands of
This is the only method by which the
anarchy which shoots down rulers and dynamites public buildings
can ever be extinguished. The lesson has been brought very close
home to us all by the sad event which has hurled us into the dust,
covered with grief and shame. It is no credit to our intelligence
that we have understood it so poorly. Instead of giving ourselves
to pitiful and unworthy ravings over the base and heartless deed
of a blinded and brutalized man,—in part the creature of our own
false ideas and barbarous systems,—let us humble ourselves, get
“nearer to God,” as our lamented President prayed that he might,
confess our errors and hardness of heart, and begin in all social,
national and international affairs to follow the supreme law of
love and service and self-sacrifice revealed to us so perfectly
in his Son. If the nations where anarchy has sprung up and grown
will only do this, the cursed, deadly tree will wither and die in
a very brief time. Satan can never cast out Satan, and the sooner
we practically accept this great truth, the better it will be for
us—and for presidents and kings.